Informatics students win first place at DubHacks

How do you win your first hackathon — a hackathon that was also the first DubHacks, an event that took place at the University of Washington and attracted students from across the county? iSchool Informatics students Gantulga Balgan and Patrick Chiang agree that it starts with a good idea.

The second year Informatics students, who are studying mobile app development in ios this term, joined nearly 400 students from across the country in the University of Washington’s Husky Union Building for DubHacks, a 24-hour collegiate hackathon and the first of its kind in the region for college students. It was Balgan’s first-ever hackathon and Chiang’s sixth.

The winning idea formed when Balgan noticed a lack of mobile applications for Spritz, a technology he was researching. Spritz makes a patent-pending, text streaming technology developed to ‘change the way people read and make communication faster, easier, and more effective.’

Chiang and Balgan found  Interaction Design student Angelica Cupat and Kevin Liang, first year CSE student, through the Facebook page set up for the event and Team Limelight was born. A fifth student, Kevin Tsang, Informatics, had to drop out the first night due to illness. (Team Limelight photo courtesy Ashley Stewart: Chiang, Balgan, Cupat, Liang celebrating their win)

In 24-hours of little or no sleep and lots of pizza, the four students created LimeLight, a speed-reading app for news articles that allows the average user to read as much as five times faster.

“Rather than having someone read a group of words or words arranged in a certain way, we have them really all the words, but we read them one word at a time,” Liang told GeekWire. “We flash (words) at a certain focal point, which allows people to remain more focused on individual words so they can process more words faster.”

They were able to demonstrate this benefit to the judges, which helped them secure first place. “We had a good idea and the judges were really impressed. When we demonstrated the app, they found they could read faster than normal,“ said Chiang.

DubHacks was organized by UW Informatics, CSE, Entrepreneurship, and Engineering student leaders. Stephen Ramierez, Informatics student and president of the Informatics Undergraduate Association, was in charge of venue logistics and credited with getting Balgan and Chiang involved.

Students had mentors throughout the night to help troubleshoot before their project reached judges — including Jeff Heer, UW associate professor of computer science and engineering; Kevin Croy, co-founder and partner at 9Mile Labs; Jason LaBaw, founder and CEO of Bonsai Media Group; and Marion Boiteux, student developer marketing lead for Microsoft, who evaluated hacks on usefulness, originality, technical difficulty and design.

Sponsorships came from companies including Microsoft, Qumulo, Google, Center for Commercialization, Cisco, Dropbox and Facebook — and it is Facebook which is flying Team Limelight to its headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, on November 12 to participate in a their national Hackathon with a dozen other teams.

Attracting Balgan to his first Hackathon was an easy sell. “It was a major tournament, seemed fun, the prizes were awesome and it was right here so it was easy to come.”